There was a strange disconnect between the historical pageant which opened the Olympic Games and reality in London today-not to mention the plutocrats in the VIP seats. While people cheered the suffragettes, the CND symbol, the lesbian kiss, the Sex Pistols, and of course the NHS, in the real austerity Britain the politicians and businessmen watching are bringing us more wars, privatising everything in sight and curtailing the right to protest.
The justified enthusiasm with which Danny Boyle's opening ceremony has been greeted was at least in part because it gave a very different view of British history from David Starkey. While his show nodded towards a history of progress in Britain _something which managed to get through even to Nazi dressing Tory MP Aidan Burley most of the VIPs, politicians and sponsors applauding the event have little enthusiasm for its message.
They have backed privatisation, endorsed a series of wars, presided over record levels of inequality for modern times, and allowed increasing attacks on civil liberties and the right to protest. It is an irony that while spectators cheered the suffragettes, their modern day protesting counterparts were denied elementary rights. The NHS, the institution perhaps most identified with progress in Britian, was given its rightful place in Boyle's production even as those politicians watching are trying to privatise it by the back door.
The army is playing an unprecedented role in these games. Well represented in the opening ceremony, 17,000 soldiers will be on call _ some to replace the private security guards not provided by 4GS _ but far more to fulfil unspecified security duties around the games. Their presence and the siting of missiles on the top of blocks of flats across London surely make this the most militarised event of any sort in London since the Second World War.
As civil liberties campaigner Shami Chakrabati helped carry the Olympic flag in the closing minutes of the Olympics opening ceremony, police were laying into demonstrating cyclists just a short walk from the Stratford stadium. The Critical Mass protest over the elite games lanes, to be used mainly by VIPs as they move effortlessly between Park Lane hotels and the games venues, was attacked by police, and a number arrested. They were held on a bus without food or drink all night waiting to be processed. We can expect similar heavy policing for any dissent during the games.
Boyle's history highlighted some things well, but Britain's unique and shameful history of war and empire was missing. That isn't just about history but about the present. There are still 10,000 British troops in Afghanistan. Drones are being directed from Britain to attack Afghans by remote control _ and the same technology is being used for surveillance during these games. Civil liberties and the right to protest have been successively undermined supposedly to 'fight terrorism' in the past decade. Islamophobia has become the last respectable racism in Europe as a result of the wars.
While £9 billion (and counting) has been spent on the games, austerity is forced on ordinary people. The British economy has taken a dive which the games are unlikely to redress, despite the vast amount spent on mascots, burgers and bunting. So after the circuses, things will really start to get tough. The sense that this is going to happen and that none of the money spent will go to alleviate the lives of most of us is well understood by many Londoners. If we want to stop it happening we should learn from the suffragettes and all those who protested in the past.
They were opposed by the rich and powerful but in the end they won - only after years of protest. We have to do the same.